On Tuesday, March 5, the 2019 Legislative Session officially began.

From our perspective, this session is our chance to change course on several fronts. The previous eight years setback law enforcement and corrections considerably. Now, Florida has a new Governor in Ron DeSantis, along with a new Cabinet, who hold a pro law enforcement and corrections outlook.

The most obvious setback everyone experienced was the reduction to your pension. Florida PBA has been on a “claw back” mission since 2012 to restore pension benefits across the board at both the local and state levels. We cannot get everything restored at once, but we must stop the bleeding and begin to repair what was broken. When we talk about restoring pension benefits, we include the FRS investment plan participants, too.

Here’s a less obvious setback that legislation cannot fix, but building stronger relationships with Florida’s top leadership can. There is a politically correct ideology that pushes extremely harsh discipline, along with aggressive micro-management and deflection of blame to subordinates. Officers under this ideological leadership do not feel like upper administrators have their backs and that they make all of their decisions base on how the media may react to a situation. The worst part of this ideology is the false impression given to people outside of the agency. From the outside, all seems fine, but internally the rank and file are suffering. The task of unmasking this behavior can be daunting, but having strong support of law enforcement and corrections from Governor Ron DeSantis and other top leaders like Lt Governor Jeanette Nunez, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis can help change this negative atmosphere. Thankfully, this ideology is not everywhere and if it is not happening to you, consider it the blessing of good leadership.

More money has always been our top priority, but even with the recent salary increases in certain locations, there are still many officers who are grossly underpaid for their public service and sacrifice. Florida’s economy is growing, but the salaries of those who protect this state (which, by the way, greatly contributes to our positive economic growth) have not kept pace.

So that ‘s what this session means to us. Our chance to reset what has gone astray, rebuild what was taken, and provide what has been withheld.

Here’s where we are as of today… in no particular order.

Pay raises for State Law Enforcement Officers, Lottery Law Enforcement Officers, FDLE Special Agents, Florida Highway Patrol, Correctional Probation Officers, and Correctional Officers are a yearly priority for the Florida PBA. The Legislature does not fund multiple year pay proposals. Therefore, we must request yearly increases. This year we may have an option to create internal career development plans with existing agency monies to help alleviate some of the pay burdens. We are negotiating a proposal to allow each agency the ability to create its own unique career plan if the dollars exist. PBA is also pursuing across the board raises and other pay enhancements for all of our state employee bargaining units. The pay decisions are part of the General Appropriations Act which is not decided until the first week in May.

SB 784 by Senator Joe Gruters and HB 779 by Representative Chuck Clemons will create a COLA floor of no less than 2% for all Special Risk Employees hired prior to July 1, 2011. The legislation requires a special impact study in order to become law. Our study request was submitted to the Division of Retirement this week. We have no idea what this proposal will cost and, under Florida constitution, the legislation cannot become law without the study.

SB 920 by Senator Jason Pizzo and HB 1021 by Representatives Chris Latvala is a work in progress, but we had a lot of positive discussion on the legislation this week. The idea is to help speed up the process for an arrest of a DNA match. Current law, requires a search warrant to a collect buccal swab of a person who matches the crime scene sample and the offender profile in CODIS. This step is added because sample collections are performed by humans and humans make mistakes. However, we strongly believe that a warrant for arrest should be an option available to a judge when a CODIS match is found.

SB 76 by Senator Wilton Simpson and HB 45 or 107 by Representatives Emily Slosberg and Jackie Toledo will attempt to make distracted driving, or, at a minimum, texting while driving a primary traffic offense. Our organization has been involved with this legislation for multiple years now. This week our Florida Highway Patrol Chapter President and Vice President of Legislation Bill Smith was able to place an amendment on the Senate bill which requires the vehicle to be in motion in order for any violation to occur. We thank Senators Travis Hutson and Wilton Simpson for working with us on the amendment.

We are involved in the debate around criminal justice reform which continues to advance in the Senate. The Senate is conducting a full scale review of our sentencing laws to specifically include minimum mandatory sentences for drug offenses, along incarceration models and diversion programs. This debate centers on ideology clashing with data.

We are also working with other special interests groups on an array of issues during this session. You can always the PBA if there’s a question about something that we did, or did not cover in this report.

Until next time please stay safe and may God bless you.